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Many Workers Still Struggling To Climb Careers Ladder

July 9, 2009

Decades of legislation have failed to reduce inequalities in the career prospects of many British workers according to a study by University of Manchester sociologists.

The team at the University’s ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-cultural Change (CRESC) found that people in their 30s and 40s are just as, if not more likely, to suffer from inequalities as the equivalent generation of workers from the 1970s and 80s.

In particular, there is more income inequality within the current cohort of mid-career employees, while both women and people from lower socio economic groups have poorer career prospects than middle-class men, which on-the-job training and work-life learning fail to offset.

However, mid-career managers and professionals are now better paid than their older peers.

The conclusion in a report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission adds fuel to the debate over discrimination in the workplace.

Also revealed by the study: younger workers’ first job after leaving school or college has a lifelong impact on their careers. A “Ëœbad match’ on entering the labour market is likely to inhibit future progress, say the researchers.

The study – one of the most extensive ever carried out ““ uses novel techniques to analyze 14 years of survey data as well reviewing existing research on work-life mobility for women, ethnic minorities, the disabled and older people.

“It’s clear from our analysis how policy makers should not be complacent that long standing inequalities are being reduced at work,” said Dr Andrew Miles, from the University of Manchester, Senior Research Fellow at CRESC.

“Even though formal discrimination has been outlawed for many years, more needs to be done.

“The solution is only partly about equality of opportunity in the context of working lives.

“It is  just as much about how people acquire the informal skills and habits they need to be successful and what part background and upbringing plays in the transfer of these  key cultural resources.

The study also found:

  • Background factors continue to have long-term effects on career progress.
  • Women are not only less likely to be upwardly mobile  through their careers than men, but also experience more turbulent careers
  • Younger women rely more on credentialist routes to achieve upward mobility, whereas men use a range of resources which allow them to get on in their working lives.
  • The different levels of security and riskiness attached to different occupational pathways seem to be highly relevant in assessing the prospects of different equality groups.
  • Information Computer Technology may be helping to reduce gender inequalities in some areas of work.

Professor Mike Savage said: “We urge the Government to focus on recruitment processes at labor market entry and the ‘launching’ of careers as well as on  ethnic minority groups and women who fail to progress.

“We argue more resources should be targeted at increasing the ‘technological capital’ of young women and other equality groups.

“More emphasis is required on making workplace training more attractive to women and to those in non-service class positions.

“And more and ongoing engagement with employer perceptions of and needs from qualifications and training is definitely needed.”

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Image Caption: Early morning rush hour. Credit: David Grossman / Science Photo Library

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